I just came home from a steamy and damp writing workshop in the woods. It was intense for many reasons not the least of which is that it really was intense. The workshop was facilitated by the amazing life guru Lynda Barry and the more low key yet still as amazing writer Dan Chaon. We wrote and drew in two to seven minute bursts at a time. Sometimes the writing inspired the drawing and sometimes the the images inspired the writing. It’s exhausting mental work capped off every evening by an uphill hike to the cabin to go to sleep usually in absolutely soupy steam that a week of summer showers in the woods can create. I was with a friend from my Ohio high school days which made writing a lot easier and I was really glad to have the company. I also sandwiched my workshop between two trips to NYC which is always fun but still a stressful exercise in time management. Thanks to several closed subway stations on 8th Avenue, I ended up walking an extra 20 blocks which made quite a fun workout for me yesterday.
I missed my ultra fatty bulletproof coffee every damn day and since I was at a hippy retreat type of place I ate more carbs than I would have at home but fuck it, I was learning stuff. Stay on the treadmill all day but mental exercise is always more exhausting.
Now I have a notebook full of images and writing and a few extra tools to move the action around in my fiction. There were about 70 other people in this workshop which usually makes me want to run far away. Thankfully Lynda ran it really well and didn’t allow people’s egos get in the way of working. And we all know that people in groups are just about the most awful things in the world. She told us not to talk during the workshop and even once said “we don’t have time to be polite…” which was so refreshing and wonderful.
Sidebar about ego…When I taught improv I never wanted people to talk about what they did for a living or hobbies because it biases us so much. I always asked people to introduce themselves by explaining what the wanted to be as a kid and WHOM do you think couldn’t follow that rule? That’s right—the male engineer who said “I liked construction sites as a kid which is why I became an engineer…”
The theme of the week for me was failure. It’s all around me now, the fear of it, the realization that it happened, the unintended good consequences of it, and the multitude of things that we learn from it. I’m definitely a 17 time loser but you know what? I’m really good at it. Besides what do you learn from winning? That you’re better than everyone? Nope.
I asked Dan Chaon the “how many times do you get a story rejected before you revise it” question and he said “depends on how much I believe in the story…” And although I know that I should never base my opinions on what others think of me it really hit me that I’m making us the rules of this game. My game, my rules. The game for me is to not adjust my rules for anyone. It’s such a simple concept but it’s easy to lose sight of.
This loser has a lot of work to do. I’ve got a lot of losing yet in me.